"She was a mate of mine and tragically this year we lost her," said pal Russell Brand, who penned a loving note to the troubled British crooner following her death. "First time I met her, she was kind of like a daft, dopey person, just wandering around a little bit crazy, like a lot of people who are drawn to big cities with a peculiar, unknowable talent."
Though he remembered that she seemed like an "ordinary girl" (with "extraordinary hair," mind you) at first, Brand recalled watching her perform and realizing that he was witnessing a rare, amazing talent. "This is not just another London chancer, not just another person milling about waiting to be famous," he said. "What is this incredible sound? This timeless sound like a roar from the guts of humanity? The kind of voice that Billie Holiday sung with, the kind of voice that Ella Fitzgerald sung with."
He started really paying attention after that, realizing that she was a "genius," though one who, like Brand in the past, struggled with the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction. Brand also alluded to the huge influence Winehouse had on such contemporary artists as VMA winners Adele, his own missus, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and 2010 VMA performer Florence and the Machine.
The musical section of the tribute had Bruno Mars digging into the Winehouse cover of the Zutons' "Valerie," taking the stage in a sharp blue sharkskin suit, his hair in an impressive pompadour as he rocked his best 1950s sock-hop look. Backed by a big band that included a three-piece string and horn section — with Amy's name inside of a heart emblazoned on the drummer's bass drum.
The big, bouncy tune was accompanied by some pop-art-style images of Winehouse that filled the big screen at the back of the stage, which alternated with some Roy Lichtenstein-type comic-book-inspired graphics. Adele was singing along in her seat, and during the breakdown, the horn section came in around a vintage mike and sang some doo-wop backing vocals under a single spotlight in a scene straight out of "Grease."
Doing a little James Brown-style side-to-side shuffle and busting out some fancy "American Bandstand" footwork, Mars ended with a shout-out, singing, "Say Amy, oh Amy/ I love you darling, I love you darling/ Say Amy, whoa Amy, we'll miss you baby."
Also along to pay homage to the "Rehab" singer was legendary crooner Tony Bennett, who introduced some never-before-seen footage of the unlikely pair recording a cover of "Body and Soul" at London's Abbey Road Studios for his upcoming Duets II album. Bennett, one of the last people to ever record with Winehouse, said he too recognized the rare beauty of her gift. The ageless icon said Winehouse was a "true" jazz artist who most definitely had "it."
The video footage of the two singing together was bittersweet, with Winehouse looking healthy and alert, twirling her hair coquettishly as she matched him note-for-note on the standard. Wearing one of the plaid sweaters from her Fred Perry fashion collection, her hair in a signature bouffant, a smiling Winehouse held her own with Bennett, trading lines and sharing a warm hug at the end of their session.
The Bennett/Winehouse single and video will be released by Columbia Records on September 14, Amy's birthday, in support of the Amy Winehouse Foundation, established by the late singer's family to help a number of charities connected with children and young people.
Winehouse, known for the depth and power of her soulful voice, will be remembered by fans and peers for her awe-inspiring talent and classic hits such as "Rehab," "Back to Black," "Me & Mr. Jones" and "You Know I'm No Good." She died last month at the age of 27 of yet-undisclosed causes in her London apartment. On Tuesday, Winehouse's family released a statement saying that toxicology reports found no traces of illegal substances in her system.
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